How would you complete the following sentence: “I never thought my spouse would be so ____________.” ?
There are probably as many different answers to this question as there are couples. Some of the possible answers would be, “I never thought my spouse would be so…
- Obsessed with sex.
- Disinterested in sex.
As I said, the answers will be many and varied, but the one that breaks my heart the most is when I hear someone say, “I never thought my spouse would be so hurtful.”
Is your spouse hurtful? There are few things more confusing, frustrating, and downright maddening than living with a spouse who is consistently hurtful towards you. Notice I said, “consistently hurtful.” Marriage is hard, and even in good marriages, spouses will occasionally hurt each other’s feelings. But when one or both spouses are consistently acting and communicating in ways that are personally hurtful, it can be like acid in the veins of the marriage.
Both those who have never experienced this and those who have will ask the same question: “Why would one spouse be consistently hurtful toward the other?”
As with most things, the reasons vary. First, do some honest self-evaluation and ask yourself if you’re contributing to your spouse’s behavior in any way. Not that this would excuse their behavior in any way, but are they snapping at you because you’ve been snapping at them? Are they distrustful because you’ve given them reason to be? You may need to talk to a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor to get some honest feedback concerning your possible contribution. But, if you can honestly say you’re not contributing to their behavior, then one of the following may be contributing to their hurtful behavior…
- They are hurt themselves. This is the most likely reason. Like the guy who has a bad day at work and then comes home and kicks the dog, we all carry hurts that can spill out onto our spouse. But if those hurts are deep enough, painful enough or consistent enough, they can cause us to be angry, suspicious, overly self-protective, and a host of other things that can bruise the people around us…especially those closest to us. In her book, “Hurt People Hurt People,” Sandra Wilson says, “We hurt others most deeply in the areas of our deepest wounding.”
- They aren’t aware of how hurtful they are. I can imagine some readers thinking, “How could they not know they’re being hurtful?!” But if your spouse was raised in a family that regularly used jokes, sarcasm, or harsh comments as a way of communicating, then they may just be following their up-bringing. It may be all they know.
- They have a personality disorder. I put this reason last, because not only is it is the least probable reason, it’s also the most difficult reason to verify. But if a spouse suffers from a personality disorder such as Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, their self-focused insecurity and mood shifts can cause them not only to speak and act in ways that can be extremely hurtful, they can also lead you to believe it’s your fault…leaving you to feel like your always walking on eggshells.
I’m sure there are other reasons that can lead a spouse to act in a hurtful manner, but the key question is: What can you do if your spouse is consistently hurtful?
- If you’re a person of faith, I would strongly encourage you to cover your spouse in prayer. This will not only bring about changes in their heart and life, it will also bring about changes in your heart and life when it comes to how you see and feel about your spouse.
- Find someone to help you walk through the difficulty. It may be a close friend, or pastor, or counselor, but it’s important for you to have someone you can trust and someone who can speak objectively into your life.
- Understand it’s more about them than it is about you. If you plugged someone else in your place, would your spouse be treating them the same way they treat you? If the answer is “yes,” then it’s probably not about you. If, after honest self-evaluation, you come to the conclusion you’re not giving them any legitimate reason to be so hurtful, then you need to embrace the truth that your spouse’s hurtful behavior is more about them than about you. Embracing this truth won’t get them to be less hurtful, but it will help you to stop taking it so personally.
- Set appropriate boundaries about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Because you’re so close to the situation, this can be hard to determine. One way to figure out what is acceptable and what isn’t is to ask yourself, “If my spouse was treating someone I love this way, would it be ok?” If not, then it’s not ok for you to be treated that way.
- Clearly and definitively address their hurtful behavior with them. Some will say, “I tried that and it made no difference!” I tried that and they blew me off!” “I tried that and it made matters worse!” If this is the case, then you may need a third party (a friend, a pastor, a counselor) to help you work through it. You may think, “They’ll never go for that,” and you may be right, but you still must try…and keep on trying.
- Live and act as if you had the spouse and the marriage you want. When your spouse is hurtful, it’s easy to either concede completely so as to not incur their wrath, or to fight fire with fire and become very militant. Neither of these responses with help. They will often make matters worse. Instead, you should act as you would if they were the spouse you wanted. That could mean greeting them lovingly when they come home, scheduling an occasional night out with your friends, going out on dates with your spouse, laughing with them, doing things to help them, asking them for help, etc. In other words, if you want your spouse to act “normal,” then act “normal” yourself. This will provide a contrast to their hurtful behavior and either help them to see what their doing or bring their behavior to a head so that you can make a clear decision about the relationship.
It’s impossible for me to answer every question and address every scenario in a short post like this, but hopefully this will provide some foundation on which to build a different outlook and approach to your hurtful spouse.
Is your spouse hurtful. If you’re married to a hurtful spouse, what’s one thing you can do right now to take care of yourself and your marriage? I encourage you to start working on that one thing as soon as possible.
Copyright © 2017 Bret Legg